restricted access 5. Perils of the Body and Mind
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5 Perils ofthe Body and Mind ON a plateau of rock bathed in light radiating from the Cross-that symbol in which alone Christians win their victories -stand allegorical figures of the civilised nations," noted the explanation accompanying a painting commissioned by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Austria, England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and "the smaller civilised States" are represented in the painting as women in martial garb, all looking, with varying degrees of interest and resolve, toward an approaching "calamity which menaces them." Leading that group of women, the winged archangel Michael holds in his right hand "a flaming sword. His countenance is turned towards the female group, his features reflect grave energy, and his outstretched left hand, which points to the approaching horror, also emphasises the invitation to prepare for the sacred conflict." Beneath the rocky plateau extends "the vast plain of civilised Europe. A majestic stream gushes across it. Lines of mountains bound the horizon, and in the valley cities are discerned, in the midst of which tower churches of various creeds." But over the peaceful landscape "clouds of calamity are rolling up," explained the caption. "Dark pitchy vapours obscure the sky. The path trodden by the invaders in their onward career is marked by a sea of flames proceeding from a burning city. Dense clouds of smoke twisting into the form of hellish, distorted faces ascend from the conflagration. The threatening danger in the form of Buddha is enthroned in this sombre framework. A Chinese dragon, which at the same time represents the demon of Destruction, carries this I I 8 119 heathen idol. In an awful onset the powers of darkness draw nearer to the banks of the protecting stream. Only a little while, and that stream is no longer a barrier." Beneath the original painting , completed in 1895, Wilhelm II had inscribed the legend: "Nations of Europe, defend your holiest possession."l The "yellow peril," defined by historian Roger Daniels as "this irrational fear of Oriental conquest, with its racist and sexfantasy overtones,"2 was probably coined by Wilhelm II and popularized through his much discussed painting, which became the most influential political illustration of the late nineteenth century . The kaiser sent reproductions of the picture, copied in oils, to some of his European royal peers and to America's President William McKinley, who would soon engage the Asiatic dragon in the Philippines. But the origins of the idea of the yellow peril can be found within the European imagination long before its articulation by Wilhelm II, perhaps as early as the fifth century B.C.E., arising from the conflict between Greeks and Persians, or in the thirteenth century C.E., when the Mongols devastated portions of eastern Europe "swarming like locusts over the face of the earth."3 Marco Polo, from his travels to Cathay in 1275, described a "swarming," bestial Mongol army that was mechanical (nonhuman ) and fanatical (superhuman) in its devotion to conquest and to the Great Khan. "They are brave in battle," wrote Polo of Mongol soldiers, "almost to desperation, setting little value upon their lives, and exposing themselves without hesitation to all manner of danger. Their disposition is cruel. They are capable of supporting every kind of privation, and when there is a necessity for it, can live for a month on the milk of their mares, and upon such wild animals as they may chance to catch.... The men are habituated 1 Reproduction of painting and explanation in The Review of Reviews (London), December 1895, pp. 474-75. 2 Roger Daniels, Concentration Camps: North America, Japanese in the United States and Canada during World War II (Malabar, Fla.: Robert E. Krieger Publishing, 1981), p. 29. 3 Friar William of Rubruck, as quoted in Campbell, Witness, pp. 88-89_ PERILS OF THE BODY AND MIND to remain on horseback during two days and two nights without dismounting; sleeping in that situation whilst their horses graze." Polo then warned of the peril they posed: "No people upon earth can surpass them in fortitude under difficulties, nor show greater patience under wants of every kind. They are perfectly obedient to their chiefs, and are maintained at small expense. From these qualities, so essential to the formation of soldiers, it is, that they are fitted to subdue the world, as in fact they have done in regard to a considerable portion of it."4 Fundamentally, however, the idea of the yellow peril does not derive solely from the alleged threat posed...


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